It’s been over 2 years since the last Syphon Filter game, Syphon Filter 3, saw the light of day on the Playstation One. Now we finally have the fourth game in the series, Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain. This game makes no bones about the fact that it is very online intensive. Although you can get through the main missions by yourself, you will find that having online friends will help you greatly to get past the long levels. The first sign of danger with buying this game would be if you don’t have a Network Adapter and broadband connection at your place of residence. You will enjoy the single-player missions (or be frustrated by them), but you’re missing out on a whole lot more online.
Unlike past Syphon Filter games, you do not play as Gabe Logan in this game except in an unlockable level. Instead you are a new recruit and you get to create your agent. The create-an-agent section isn’t all that robust, but as you go through the game you unlock new gear for your player that you can then add. Prior access to the previous games is not mandatory, but doing a quick lookover of FAQs from the previous games should catch you up to the main premise of the Syphon Filter story. A new strain of the virus has broken out, Mara Aramov (the series arch-villain) has broken out once again and the IPCA is on the case, with the group being lead by series veteran Gabe Logan this time around.
It’s generally accepted that the first game in the Syphon Filter series was really good and then things went slowly downhill from there. Can this new game turn the tide around or is it an even worse experience than Syphon Filter 3? Let’s find out.
The overall graphics in Omega Strain are okay at best. The environments tend to be very dark and plain looking, probably because of the online hook and the need for the game to run at a respectable rate when online. Where the graphics shine though are in the agents and enemies themselves. You’ll see this most when you have a sniper rifle and put a bullet right in-between the eyes of your opponent. Blood spurts out and he crumbles (or falls if he’s up on a building) to the ground.
When you are online with 3 other people, you notice that a lot of care was taken when creating and animating the agents. There is virtually no slowdown when playing online that I saw in the time I played. This game was obviously built around the idea that online gaming was an integral part of the package and the rest of the graphics would have to be of the okay variety and not have much more than your standard animations.
The sound and music are excellent in The Omega Strain. The music fits the situations perfectly. Your first mission drops you in Michigan where an outbreak has happened. The music helps bring the chaos around you to a more personable level. I’m very impressed by the music in this game.
The sounds are also very good. Each gun sounds like I think they would sound, the character voiceovers are pretty good, although the lip syncing doesn’t match up very well with the words spoken in both the cutscenes and the engine side talks. There is a LOT of radio chatter going on between the IPCA people, but then again you are in some serious situations where you need some guidance.
Control is where this game slightly goes wrong. Basically the controls are the same as the previous Syphon Filter games with a few new things added. The problem with the similarity is that when the original game came out the Playstation did not have the Dual Shock controller yet. In fact, the analog sticks weren’t even there yet. Instead of doing what any normal developer would do and put movement on the left analog stick and strafing/looking around on the right analog stick, they decided to put strafing on L2/R2 and have your character turn and move forward and backward via the left analog stick. Think of it like Resident Evil where you have to turn before moving forward and remember that I hate the RE control system in regards to movement.
The other huge problem with the controls is the fact that there is no easy way to switch between weapons. The fastest way is to hold down select and then toggle through the weapons with the L1/R1 buttons. The key problem is that the action doesn’t stop when you use this way, but if you use the main menu way the game does stop at least in offline mode.
On the good side of things, the aiming and shooting dynamics from the previous games are still here. You can lock on with R1, push L1 to aim and square to shoot. A headshot will drop the enemy right there. If you don’t get used to manual aiming you will find that ammo will be quickly wasted as it takes many shots to down an opponent. This becomes even more of a problem online where there are 4 players that all need ammo and very little ammo to find in some of the stages.
I am also not a big fan of the torso-twisting moves in the Syphon Filter series. The animations look very off and it hurts the controls quite a bit. Having movement akin to Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City where you have free movement would have helped a lot in this game, but I can understand the need to use the roots the series already had.
The biggest plus is that this game has a full tutorial section that you can go through and learn the controls. If you’ve never played a Syphon Filter game before, I would recommend going through this because you’ll find yourself very confused if you jump right into the game. For those Syphon Filter veterans, you may want to try it as well…it has been over 2 years after all.
This is a game that is best played online with 3 other people. The single-player portion can be very fun, but it also gets very long. Each mission gives you a plethora of objectives to complete. It can often take a long time to get through the objectives on your own and the key to unlocking stuff in this game is to be fast at beating missions. This is where the online section comes in. You jump online, pick a mission, look for people in the lobby that opens up and start playing. The USB/SOCOM headset is almost a necessity in this game because it is the easiest way to communicate with other people (although clicking the left analog stick to talk isn’t the smartest thing Sony’s ever done). I personally don’t have a headset, so the experience wasn’t as great for me; nevermind that I was probably playing with people who had been playing this game for a while.
The single-player mode, as said above, is very fun. There are some huge problems though. The biggest one is the respawing of enemies. They will literally respawn right in front of your eyes. With the limited amount of ammo you have on certain missions you can realize how hard it can be if you have to beat respawing enemies. This is where the addition of 3 other players helps a lot because it isn’t only you trying to take everyone down.
The second big problem is for those players that are new to the Syphon Filter universe. You will be confused by the controls because it’s not set up like many other 3rd person action games. I would recommend reading the manual and going through the training because it should help you get ready for the game. Another problem that both veterans and new players alike will have is that your agent starts off with some weak weapons and an enemy army that has better weapons than you do. Your best bet is to kill some and take their guns.
The last big problem is the game’s reliance on speed. A lot of the unlockables (including things like new guns to start levels off with, new rankings, new clothes, etc.) depend on you beating the level in a certain amount of time or having great accuracy. This game can get pretty long and you will try to figure out how you can get through the level the fastest way possible. The fact is the unlockables are quite nice in this game. You ranking goes up as you go through the missions and that will show people online how far you’ve gotten in the game.
Overall this game is fun, but many people should think about renting it before they think about purchasing it. There is a high level of difficulty to learning just the controls and you will probably have to give in to the online hook of having 3 extra people on your side for every mission.
This game is pretty long depending on if you replay missions offline and/or online. The online component comes from an interesting angle. Basically you play the same missions as the single-player mode, it’s just that you now have 3 people helping you on the mission. If you beat a level either offline or online the next level is unlocked for you in either case.
This isn’t Rainbow Six 3 or Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow where you have separate maps for multiplayer though. The fact is that your want for this game comes down to whether you have a Network Adapter and broadband at home or not. If you do, you may want to rent this game and see how it is both offline and online. If you don’t have it, you can still rent the game, but realize that the single-player portion is that much harder without people helping you online. This game can be very daunting and the respawning enemies don’t help one bit.